In this week’s Parashah we hear about the eradication of Sedom and Amorah, in which all the inhabitants were killed. The people of Sedom are remembered for their wickedness and complete disregard for their fellow man; they are often considered to be the personification of evil. The residents of the Siddim valley had the exact opposite image of Avraham in that they not only had no drive to do Mitzvot or love their neighbors, but they also even enjoyed tormenting their neighbors, for the sole purpose of making their neighbors’ lives miserable.
The greatest sin of the people of Sedom was that when an outsider would come to the city and ask for anything, the people would refuse to offer any help regardless of how easy it was to perform the task. To illustrate this point, the Vilna Gaon applies this idea to his time. The Gra studied Torah whenever he could, stopping only if there were something absolutely necessary for him to tend to. He even requested that he not be called to communal meetings unless they were discussing a proposal for a new law. Once, the Gra was called to an emergency meeting and when he got there, he was amazed to here that the “new” law was that impoverished Jews should not be allowed to come into Vilna to ask for money without special authorization. The Vilna Gaon, flabbergasted, stood up and asked, “Is it for this proposal that you have taken me away from my Torah studies? I was under the impression that this meeting was called to discuss a new law.” “But that is exactly the case,” replied the head of the community, “We are trying to draw up a new law against the outside poor.” “Do you call that a new law?” asked the Vilna Gaon contemptuously, “Why, that law was introduced thousands of years ago in Sedom and Amorah!”
Despite the fact that Sedom and Amorah were condemned to be destroyed, Avraham’s nephew, Lot, was able to escape before the incident. One reason for this is that he was protected by the Zechut of his uncle, Avraham. This answer references back to the first story of Parashat VaYeira: the Mal’achim’s visit to Avraham. According to Chazal, the “Sheloshah Anashim” (BeReishit 18:2) that Avraham saw were three Mal’achim that Hashem sent, each assigned to a specific task. (Mal’achim are able to perform only one mission at a time.) One Mal’ach was sent to tell Avraham that his wife would soon give birth to a son; the second was sent to inform Avraham about the destruction of Sedom and Amorah; and the third was sent to relieve Avraham of the pain of his Brit Millah, and to save Lot.
But if it is true that a Mal’ach can perform only one task, then how is it that the third Mal’ach had the job of healing Avraham as well as saving Lot and his family from Sedom before its destruction? The answer is that the fates of Avraham and Lot were connected as part of a single task, because Lot was saved through Avraham’s Zechut, and, as such, if the Mal’ach never helped Avraham heal from his Milah, his nephew would have died.
However, Chazal present another answer as to why Lot was saved when the rest of the people from Sedom were killed. Chazal propose is that Lot was saved because he did Chessed. When Lot went with Avraham and Sarah to Mitzrayim, Lot heard Avraham say to Par’oh that Sarah was his sister. Even though he knew that this was not true, he remained silent and, thus saved both Avraham and Sarah. Lot’s silence was a simple act, yet a crucial one for Avraham and his family. This small act of kindness was repaid to Lot, as it ended up saving his and his family’s lives. We learn from this that if we stay away from acting like the people of Sedom and are kind to our fellow man, even the performance of just a small act of Chesed will cause Hashem to do something beneficial for us in a time of need.